Meet the IIU’s Behavioural Science Fellow: Paniz Tavakoli

Based on your skills and past experience, what unique perspectives do you bring to this work?

My background is in cognitive neuroscience. This area merges two distinct fields in order to solve complex questions about how we behave the way we do. During my time as a researcher, I have gained valuable skills in using multidisciplinary techniques to approach research questions in innovative ways. Based on my past experiences, I have learned that the best solutions for certain problems are often achieved when combining multidisciplinary forces. The field of behaviour science does just that. By making evidence-informed decisions, grounded in behavioural science, we can strengthen the public health landscape in an impartial and objective way.

What interests you most about working with the Government of Canada?

As a researcher, I have always been fascinated by solving scientific problems. After my graduate and postdoctoral training, I was eager to use my skillset to address important research questions and make a difference in the public health landscape. By working with the Government of Canada, I can now be apart of linking research to practice. I am looking forward to applying scientifically validated techniques to guide policy and decision making in order to strengthen Canada’s public health response.

In what way do you believe the application of behavioural science can effectively support Canada’s public health response?

The application of behavioural science is vital for making evidence-informed decisions in an impartial and objective way. By using well-grounded scientific methods, we can ensure that the most appropriate evidence-informed information is being used for public health action. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of using behavioural insights to better understand human behaviour and decision making.

What is your favourite behavioural science bias, heuristic, or effect — and why?

My favourite behavioural science bias is known as attentional bias. The vast majority of my PhD and postdoctoral work focused on understanding the neural mechanisms of attention. I have always been fascinated by how our attentional systems work. There are so many different aspects and stages of attentional processing. Each of them can be influenced or affected by our environment. Attentional bias refers to our tendency to focus on certain elements while ignoring others. During my time as a researcher at CHEO, I led a research project directly examining attentional bias in adolescents with suicidal thoughts and behaviours. Fascinatingly, I observed that, when presented with multiple options, their attention was preferentially drawn negative information. This was the case even when they were instructed to ignore all information that was presented to them.

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